In Defense of the Crusades

by aqwsed12345 5 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • aqwsed12345

    Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. By the time the Crusades started, Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the Christian world. The Crusades were a direct response to more than four centuries of Muslim aggression. Fantastic articles:

    The modern perception of the Crusades is also unjust. The Crusades are often portrayed in the public mind as manifestations of Western imperialism, religious bigotry, and fanaticism, as well as material interests cloaked in religious garb. However, this image is a myth.

    In the Spring 2011 issue of Intercollegiate Review, Paul F. Crawford debunks four myths about the Crusades. The first myth is that the Crusades were unprovoked attacks on the Muslim world. In reality, by the time of the First Crusade, Islam had been in conflict with Christianity for 450 years.

    The second myth is that the Crusaders were only interested in getting rich, and the third is that the religious motivation was merely a facade, with the campaigns actually driven by material gain. This opinion is problematic because the Crusades were very expensive endeavors, with many Crusaders selling much of their belongings to embark on the journey. The mortality rate of the Crusades was also very high; according to one military historian, 75% of the participants in the First Crusade perished. Joining the Crusader armies was voluntary; there was no draft, and it was not mandatory. Everyone was aware at the time, and recruitment speeches even warned, that Crusader knights might face hardship, suffering, and even death.

    Crawford's fourth myth is that the Islamic world hates Christians because of the Crusades. In fact, until the 19th century, the Crusades were not a significant topic in the Muslim world. According to the author, Muslims didn't even have a specific word for the Crusades, which were simply seen as one chapter in the many Christian-Muslim conflicts. The Islamic world rediscovered the Crusades after 1899, thanks to the West, where the interpretation of the Crusades as barbaric, aggressive Western attacks on peaceful Muslims appealed to the emerging Arab nationalism and later to extremist Islamism.

    The eastern campaigns of the Crusader armies were defensive offensives initiated by Christian Europe (see the speech of Blessed Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095) (at least the first two certainly were) and they defended Europe. It is unfortunate that in later Crusades, not only religious enthusiasm but also greed and a desire for adventure played a role. Disgraceful events, such as the capture of Byzantium, also occurred (here too it holds that the sins of the Crusades were consequences of human frailty, but this does not mean that the institution itself was unnecessary). The claim that the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre, the protection of Christian pilgrims, the unification of Christianity, and the prevention of Islamic terror were merely propagandistic goals, behind which there were actually economic interests (e.g., the impoverishment of knights due to primogeniture, the Italian cities' desire for commercial monopolies, and the serfs' escape from feudal exploitation) is nothing more than making incidental reasons into the main cause driven by the prejudiced agenda of the "Enlightenment" and as such, is a common fabrication. After all, "crusading" armies existed even before the proclamation of the Crusades (1095). For instance, they defended Spain from the Moors who had penetrated at the Strait of Gibraltar, whom Charles Martel and his armies were only able to repel from the territory of present-day France (732). Without them, today - most likely - all of Europe would be living under Sharia law. But can a war to protect Europeans be considered defensive if it takes place far beyond Europe's borders? The affirmative answer consists of two parts:

    1. Any defensive or so-called "just" war can involve cross-border offensives (consider the USA's involvement in Europe [e.g., the Normandy landing] and Asia [e.g., Hiroshima, Nagasaki] during World War II, the Soviet Union's advance in Europe, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Gulf War, the United States' anti-terrorist campaign in Iraq, and the renewed State of Israel's armed conflicts with neighboring states - the note does not intend to sanctify or condemn any of these historical events, as the catechism does not aim to evaluate modern history, but merely to show that the concept of cross-border military action and self-defense can very well coexist in public consciousness). This could also be a preventive strike (the fact that Christianity delivered four decisive blows to Muslim armies on its own territory (Europe) is sufficient evidence that the Muslim world aimed to subjugate Europe, and action could and had to be taken against this even with cross-border means:

    • 732: Tours and Poitiers - Islamic aggressor: Abderrhaman — victorious Christian leader: Charles Martel.
    • 1456: Siege of Belgrade - Islamic aggressor: Mehmed II - victorious Christian leader: John Hunyadi.
    • 1571: Lepanto - Islamic aggressor: Ali Pasha - victorious Christian leader: Don Juan of Austria.
    • 1683: Vienna - Islamic aggressor: Kara Mustafa - victorious Christian leader: John Sobieski.

    Thus, the Islamic invasion was independent of the Crusaders' activities, as Muslim aggression in the West caused serious military problems for Europe centuries before and after the campaigns.

    2. A country and a community are obliged to protect their citizens or members of the community even if they are attacked beyond the country's borders or the community's territories (think about what would happen today if citizens of a major power were massacred en masse in a foreign country based on state-supported ideology simply because they belong to a particular nation). Christian pilgrims were systematically slaughtered or harassed by Muslims for centuries, depending on the prevailing interest. We consider it self-evident and legitimate that any country or nation should defend its interests with armed force. We can appreciate the welfare and existence of a country or nation. However, we deny the same to the Church. By doing so, we are either inconsistent or we do not sufficiently value spiritual matters.

    The so-called Children's Crusade (1212) also requires separate discussion, as its evaluation is also questionable. It is true that such a crusade occurred, and it was indeed madness, but it should not be forgotten that it was not organized by the Church but was a spontaneous popular movement. The Church did not support it; on the contrary, several bishops managed to turn back thousands of children from certain death. So it was not approved by the Church and was a spontaneous action. Moreover, in light of research, it was not a children's crusade but rather one of poor, young laborers. The term "Children's Crusade" originated from a mistranslation of the Latin term (pueri) in contemporary chronicles.

    * * *

    Many today regard the Crusades as manifestations of Western imperialism and colonialism, religious bigotry, and intolerance, often mentioned alongside the Inquisition as evidence of Christianity's moral decay. This view is mistaken: the Crusades primarily served a defensive purpose.

    In the Spring 2011 issue of Intercollegiate Review, Paul F. Crawford debunks four myths about the Crusades. The first myth is that the Crusades were unprovoked attacks on the Muslim world. In reality, by the time of the First Crusade, Islam had been in conflict with Christianity for 450 years. In 632, at the death of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, and North Africa were all Christian territories. Consider that the Roman Empire encompassed the Mediterranean region. Christianity was born in Palestine, and its first major centers were in that area. In these regions, Christianity was the predominant religion, but there were also Christian minorities in Persia, such as the Nestorians, and many Christian communities in Arabia.

    Not long after Muhammad's death, in 638, Muslims captured Jerusalem, and in 717-18, they unsuccessfully attempted to take Constantinople. By 732, Christians had lost Asia Minor, North Africa, including Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and even southern parts of future Spain and France. Christians and Jews were expelled from Arabia, and hard times befell Persian Christians. Two-thirds of the former Roman Empire fell into Muslim hands. Later, from North Africa, Muslims launched attacks against the islands of the Mediterranean, and Muslim pirates ventured onto the mainland, even threatening Rome. Between 850 and 950, Muslim pirate strongholds were established along the northern Italian and southern French coasts, forcing many Benedictine monks to abandon their monasteries, and pirates even infiltrated the Papal States.

    Despite all these conflicts, Christian pilgrims enjoyed relative freedom in the Holy Land until the 10th century. In 801, Caliph Harun al-Rashid transferred ownership of the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem to Charlemagne and sent him copies of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a sign of his commitment to peace. The Byzantine Empire lost vast territories, but between 940 and 970, it managed to reconquer parts of Syria and Palestine, including Nazareth. However, they did not reach Jerusalem, and Aleppo and Antioch soon fell back into Muslim hands. The jihadists who reoccupied Syria in 966 vented their anger on Jerusalem, setting the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on fire. In 979, Caliph Ibn Moy had the church's gate set ablaze, causing the dome to collapse and the patriarch to perish in the flames. The church was not restored until 984.

    A crazed caliph, the Fatimid al-Hakim (996-1021), after suffering a defeat from Byzantium, vented his frustration on the Christians in his empire: he banned processions, excluded Christians from public offices, and over ten years, he plundered and confiscated 30,000 churches. He began to harass and execute pilgrims and Jews as well. In 1009, he had the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem demolished, intending to completely erase it from the face of the earth, even planning to destroy the cave of the Nativity. After his death, Byzantium started negotiations with his successor, Ali az-Zahir, for the reconstruction of the basilica, but things did not return to normal, and pilgrims continued to be harassed. In 1056, for instance, 300 Christians were expelled from Jerusalem. Pilgrims increasingly traveled in groups and armed.

    Additionally, the Seljuk Turks arrived, who defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071, captured Syria in 1076, and Jerusalem in 1077. They disregarded the established Christian-Muslim modus vivendi that had developed between the region's Arab leaders and Christian residents, and began replacing leaders. At this time, smaller Christian successes occurred in the Western and Central Mediterranean region, from Sicily to North Africa. In the East, however, Kilij Arslan I found a new headquarters in Nicaea, the site of the first council in 325, just a stone's throw from Constantinople, about a hundred kilometers away.

    Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, in his final desperation, set aside the animosities caused by the Great Schism of 1054 and mutual excommunications, and turned to the Pope, Gregory VII, for help. However, at that time, Gregory was preoccupied with the Investiture Controversy, so his successor, Urban II, proclaimed the First Crusade in 1089. At that time, three of the five patriarchal seats of the Christian world were in Muslim hands (Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria), and the other two, Rome and Constantinople, had already been attacked.

    Looking further ahead, Constantinople fell to the Muslims in 1453, and we Europeans are well aware of the history of the Turks' attacks on Europe. From this perspective, the Crusades fit into a series of defensive actions by the Christian world. We can also ask: how many times did Christians attempt to attack Mecca or Medina? The answer, of course, is never. It was never about imperialism or forcibly converting Muslims, but about protecting Middle Eastern Christians and pilgrims. The papacy, aware of Islam's teachings on apostasy, which prescribe death for apostates, did not even attempt to convert Muslims, as it saw no point in producing heaps of corpses. Later, the papacy explicitly sought good relations with the Islamic world.

    The Siege of Jerusalem and Muslim Subjects in the Crusader States

    On July 15, 1099, the Crusader armies captured Jerusalem. According to accounts, the victorious army carried out a massacre, with soldiers reportedly wading in blood up to their knees, a poetic exaggeration. The soldiers' behavior was terrible, but unfortunately not unusual for the time. Chroniclers may have amplified the horrors to emphasize the apocalyptic nature of the event. Arab sources, for instance, speak of 70,000-100,000 dead, although the city had a maximum population of 10,000 at that time. Before the assault, the besiegers allowed the city to be evacuated, and thousands of Christians, Jews, and Muslims left. However, 88 years later, the Christians lost Jerusalem, and in 1291, the Crusader fortress of Acre also fell.

    In the Crusader states that emerged over time, despite the atrocities that occur in any era, Muslims were free to practice their religion, own land, build mosques and schools, and pilgrimage to Mecca, as Michael Hesemann points out in his book discussing the lies about the Catholic Church. Furthermore, around 1180, the Spanish Muslim Ibn Jubayr wrote, during his pilgrimage to Mecca through the Holy Land, that Muslims fared better under Christian rule than in their own countries. Clearly, concepts of tolerance and pluralism were different then, but in its own way, the medieval world was distinctly pluralistic and tolerant.

    Material Motives in Religious Guise?

    Returning to Crawford: the second myth he addresses is that the Crusaders were only interested in getting rich, and the third, related myth, is that religious motivation was just a facade and the campaigns were driven by material interests. This opinion is problematic because the Crusades were very expensive endeavors, with many Crusaders selling much of their possessions to embark on the journey. One reason for the diversion of the Fourth Crusade towards Constantinople was that they ran out of money, and the Seventh Crusade by King Louis IX of France consumed the crown’s revenue for six years. One of the reasons for the ultimate failure of the Crusades was the continuous lack of funds. Most Crusader knights and commanders knew that they would not become wealthy through the Crusades.

    Michael Hesemann points out that among the leaders of the First Crusade (Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert of Normandy, Bohemond of Taranto, Raymond IV of Toulouse, Baldwin of Boulogne, and Robert of Flanders), all except Baldwin were firstborn heirs of significant counties or duchies, yet two of them mortgaged all their possessions to finance the campaign.

    The mortality rate of the Crusades was also very high; according to a military historian, 75% of the participants in the First Crusade perished. Joining the Crusader armies was voluntary; there was no draft, and it was not mandatory. Everyone at the time was aware, and recruitment speeches even warned, that Crusader knights might face deprivation, suffering, and even death. Thus, religious motivation played a significant role, particularly the promise of forgiveness of sins. In my opinion, it reflects on us and our era that we see material interests behind every past event. This mindset reveals more about our way of thinking than about people in the past. Of course, there were some who profited from the Crusades, but this was not the norm.

    The Children's Crusade

    The Children's Crusade of 1212 is often cited to illustrate religious fanaticism. It was allegedly launched on the belief that only innocent children could save the Holy Land. According to history books, a shepherd boy named Stephen from Vendôme claimed to have received a letter from the Savior and announced the Crusade based on miracles. He gathered an army of thirty thousand, and two merchants offered to transport them. However, the ships sank near Sicily, and many ended up as slaves. Around the same time, Nicholas of Cologne also gathered about 20,000 boys and girls of various ages. Most did not even reach the Alps, while others fell prey to Lombard robbers.

    The clergy in Paris opposed Stephen's initiative, and King Philip Augustus asked the crowd to return home after praying at the Cathedral of Saint-Denis. Part of the German group, which included many adults, servants, peasants, and people of various professions, turned back at Genoa, disappointed that the sea did not open for them. Some went to Rome, where the Pope received them kindly and then sent them home. Another group headed to Brindisi, where the local bishop forbade them to board ships.

    Interestingly, there are no records of the French crusade's passage in contemporary chronicles, which suggests that it may not have occurred as described. The stories of children turning back from the sea and some being sold into slavery in Africa appear in chronicles written a generation later, and contemporary southern French chronicles do not mention them. The primary source, Albericus Monachus' manuscripts from around 1250, do not claim that the members of the 1212 crusade were children. His expressions translate to pilgrims, poor people, men, and women. Later rural French chronicles speak of rural people leaving their homes and livestock.

    The misunderstanding arose from the term "pueri," used in all chronicles, which was simply translated as "children" by modern scholars. However, depending on the context, it could also mean young workers, low-ranking employees, laborers, household servants, and farmhands, in line with the patriarchal era. The Ebersheim Chronicle uses "pueri" to refer to household servants. The accounting books of the 13th and 14th centuries consistently use "puer" and "pueri" to denote temporary agricultural or household workers, such as hired hands and day laborers. During the economic crisis of the time, these people were the least tied to the land and the most mobile, making them the most likely to embark on such a journey.

    Muslim Repercussions?

    Crawford's fourth myth is that the Islamic world dislikes Christians because of the Crusades. However, it is worth noting that the Crusades were not a significant topic in the Muslim world until the 19th century. When Stéphen Pichon, after World War I, was negotiating with the future King Faisal I of Iraq and mentioned that his country had been interested in Syria since the time of the Crusades, Faisal jovially replied, "Pardon, but which of us won the Crusades?" Until then, Muslims had regarded the Crusades simply as one chapter among many in the Christian-Muslim conflicts.

    The Islamic world rediscovered the Crusades after 1899, thanks to the West. At that time, there were two schools of thought in Europe regarding the Crusades: one, represented by Voltaire, Gibbon, and Sir Walter Scott, saw them as barbaric and aggressive Western attacks on peaceful Muslims (their late successor being Sir Steven Runciman, the great mid-20th century chronicler of the Crusades); and the other, possibly epitomized by French writer Joseph-François Michaud, viewed the Crusades as heroic struggles against Muslim hordes. Additionally, secular "imperialists" also discovered these medieval enterprises for themselves, leading to the rise of Arab nationalism and, eventually, pan-Islamism and Islamic "fundamentalism." These movements seized upon the Western idea of the Crusades as barbaric imperialist attacks. Ironic, isn't it?

    Weighing the Balance

    Of course, we do not glorify wars, which we consider one of the worst things that can happen. However, we are not pacifists; unfortunately, warfare is sometimes necessary (see the theory of just self-defense wars), as sad as that is. It is undeniably impossible to judge how necessary the Crusades were. In any case, during the Middle Ages, when the chivalric ideal was flourishing, war was much more a part of life than it is today. Although battlefields likely presented a more horrifying and fearsome spectacle then, they fought face-to-face, without weapons of mass destruction, drones, or remote-controlled bombs.

    It is certainly possible to debate whether the Crusades were defensive wars; at the time, people saw them that way. It is also pointless to argue whether a defensive war can be waged for a territory that has been under different control for a few hundred years. Let’s not think in terms of decades; while the medieval person's life might have been shorter than ours, they measured time much more slowly. If we consider the Crusades as offensive wars, we should consider our wars against the Turks as such as well. As is evident, the conflicts at the boundary between the Christian and Muslim worlds were continuous, and the Crusaders were not attempting to reclaim a long-forgotten territory. Moreover, the eight Crusades to the East took place over three hundred years, among other wars.

    Egon Flaig, a professor at the University of Greifswald, wrote in an essay in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in September 2006, as cited by Hesemann, that Pope Urban II had a clear understanding of the situation. If Constantinople had fallen in 1100, the Turkish army would have descended upon Europe four hundred years earlier, and the flourishing late medieval culture that was beginning to emerge at that time might never have developed: the free cities, constitutional debates, cathedrals, the Renaissance, and the scientific boom. The excesses, which even the popes were horrified by and protested against, can be considered secondary from this perspective.

    In the Middle Ages, self-aware Europeans believed they had to defend their civilization.

  • no-zombie

    To aqwsed:

    It seems to me that you are a professionally educated person with some interest in early history. That being the case, I'd thought you may appreciate a little feedback on your posts.

    While no one could deny the effort you go to in making your position. The shear mass of your posts could scare many away from reading it, without a precis at the beginning to explain why someone should. Personally I find thesis statements do not adequately suffice in this regard, as a result I try the more simpler approach of using leading questions or problems to help engage an audience. And I do think that it is important to consider our readers, for if we needlessly tire them out, our well intent labors may prove to be in vane.


  • vienne

    I agree, this is too long for this type of forum. It should find a place on a focused blog where readers expect something like this.

    And it's his first post that isn't totally filled with logic flaws and false reasoning. There are some good points here, the best of which is noting the need to put things in their proper historical context. One of the few modern writers to do this when considering the Crusades - and to comment on the need - is Richard Fletcher in his The Cross and the Crescent.

    Aqw is - in my critical opinion - primarily an autodidact. Nothing wring with that except that it tends to produce writers who stuff words in a shotgun and shoot them at the page. I'd much rather see articles like this but in a much more concise form.

  • Rivergang
    If Constantinople had fallen in 1100, the Turkish army would have descended upon Europe four hundred years earlier, and the flourishing late medieval culture that was beginning to emerge at that time might never have developed:

    The problem was, though, that the Fourth Crusade (1204) sacked Constantinople. In doing so, they fatally weakened the Byzantine Empire - which was Europe's key defence against Muslim expansion.

    That the Crusades ever kicked off at all was because of an appeal for help by the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios I Komnenos. In 1095, he asked for assistance from Western Europe to resist incursions into his territory by the Seljuk Turks. What the emperor envisaged was an addition of another force of mercenary soldiers to reinforce his army - an army which already contained a large number of mercenaries. (Those mercenaries included Muslim troops - the matter was a lot more involved than just "Good guys wearing white hats, bad guys wearing black hats").

    However, what the emperor wanted and what he ended up getting were two quite different things! While the First Crusade did take a little of the heat off the Byzantine Empire, in the longer term the Crusades weakened it to the point where it no longer served as an effective bulwark against Turkish invasion.

    The real unsung heroes in defending Western Civilisation would have to be the Poles. Twice (in 1683 and again in 1920) they saved Western Europe from disaster.

    In 1683, Polish forces under Jan Sobieski lifted the Siege of Vienna and inflicted a decisive defeat on the Ottoman Turks, thus saving Western Europe from invasion. Then again in 1920, when the seemingly unstoppable Red Army was poised at the River Vistula and looking certain to burst into Western Europe, it was routed by the Polish forces under Jozef Pilsudski. Were those Soviet armies not defeated at the Vistula, there would have been very little to stop them from sweeping through to Germany and beyond. The "Iron Curtain" would have been in place a generation earlier than it was - and would have bordered right on the English Channel!

    (The Battle of the Vistula is well described in Dennis Wheatley's Red Eagles)

  • vienne

    there's a movie based on the Siege of Vienne and Sobieski's part in it. Fun move.

  • Simon

    I find history, including that of the Crusades, fascinating. Thanks for the post.

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